Advice for the First-Time Author
Writing two books has been eye-opening to say the least. This post is what I wish I’d read last year when I started on the journey. It’s not advice per se, but rather some realities new writers should be expecting when they start putting pen to paper.
OK, so I have spent a few recent posts pimping my books with about as much dignity as a ticket scalper outside a Celine Dion concert. I guess the sense of accomplishment is still nagging at me, and I’m going to take a few last cheap shots at the crowd before I let the moment get swallowed by the relentless wave of competing media that has already diverted the world’s attention.
So, in effort to position myself an expert in an area I have no business doing so, I am going to impart some anecdotal wisdom which may or may not apply to other aspiring writers, and which may or may not be of any interest whatsoever to anyone else. But having gone through the fire, I though it might be worth writing the post I wish I had read before diving into two books at the same time. Your mileage may vary.
Settle in For the Long Haul
Writing a book takes time. Lots of it. Long-term time, short-term time, spare-time time and full-time time — the whole thing takes about a year from concept to dead tree, and it requires focus every single day.
In the beginning, I committed the major sin of letting the schedule fall behind by getting side-tracked by freelance work and thinking I could just make it up with a few weekend writing blitzkriegs. Wrong. Following the schedule set forth by the publisher takes hard work every day, including weekends. It does not include provisions for dilly-dallying, or even lollygagging.
The First Draft is Only the First Draft
Just remember that everything you write will be scrutinized by a line of editors. The ones who worked with me were not draconian; I was given tremendous latitude in subject and style, but edits — from grammar to technical to “this makes no sense” — came back with almost every draft.
The friends of ED people were great to work with, and here’s how the general process broke down:
- First Draft. Basically the unfiltered brain dump, generally combed through at least twice by myself before submittal.
- Second Draft. Revisions based on general editorial feedback as well as comments from my technical reviewer, Brian.
- Third Draft. Further revisions and change approvals based on style editing (serial commas, bullet formatting, etc).
- Fourth Draft. This is the PDF version produced by the layout artists. I tested their patience many times by making final tweaks to the content even in this late stage.
All told, the first draft accounted for about 60% of the total writing time. The second drafts were especially time-consuming; chapter 3, for instance, took a week to overhaul, and in the end contained more red than black. Worth it for the final product? Yes. Frustrating for the foE people looking to keep a schedule? You know it.
Your Relationships Will Suffer
Do not plan on any life-changing events during the writing process. Do not get married, have a baby, accept a promotion, travel, move, or attempt traditional Thai cooking. The book will fully dominate every spare moment, so plan on pissing off your significant other and living on Ramen noodles for about a year.
Don’t Do It for the Money
Unless you’re a celebrity like Cederholm or a Zeldman, don’t count on making any serious money from your first book, at least not in terms of advance money. Even if it’s a novel subject, or even if you’re a topic expert, publishers are not going to shell out serious scratch; the small advance that arrives during the writing process scarcely covers the long, long hours involved. Averaged out, we’re talking pennies per hour.
Writing a book is a labor of love. If you don’t love your topic, and you don’t love writing, it’s best to avoid the whole nasty issue. It’s really that simple.